Assistant Lee County Attorney placed on administrative leave for handling of case
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A Kahoka man is now serving one year in Lee County Jail with work release for his role in the deaths of Laverne and Michael Faulkner, two Farmington farmers who were killed as a result of a two-vehicle fatality in 2019.
Robert LeRoy Boyd, 29, was originally charged by the Lee County Attorney’s office with two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of OWI as a result of the collision that occurred just after 1 a.m. on the morning of June 9.
According to reports, a 2000 Ford pickup driven by Boyd allegedly failed to negotiate a curve in the road on Highway 2 at 140th Avenue.
Investigators believe that Boyd was intoxicated and lost control of his vehicle and overcorrected crossing the center line where he struck a 2005 GMC Yukon driven by Laverne, 63 at the time, nearly head-on. Michael was a passenger in Laverne’s vehicle. Both were transported to area hospitals and pronounced dead.
Boyd was taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he recovered from injuries. He was charged on Aug. 30, 2019 by Assistant Lee County Attorney Kym Auge with the three counts.
Boyd, through his attorney Curt Dial of Keokuk, waived his right to a speedy trial in September. Additional motions and continuances pushed the case through the end of 2020. A trial date had been set for April 6.
On Jan. 25 of this year, at 2:20 p.m. Auge sent Dial an email that indicated the state was willing to plead the case down.
In a court document obtained by Pen City Current, Auge wrote: “In an effort to resolve this matter short of trial, the State would be willing to allow (Boyd) to plead open to one count of the trial information. Please let me know if this is agreeable with your client. Thank You. Very truly yours, Kym.”
Auge’s letter didn’t specify on which of the three counts prosecutors were willing to accept a plea, an omission that ultimately allowed Boyd to escape prosecution for the fatalities.
An hour and fifteen minutes later Dial directed his staff to print off the email and “get it to me”, according to court documents.
At 3:48 p.m. the same day, Dial filed a waiver of rights and a guilty plea to count three, of OWI-1st offense, ultimately releasing Boyd from the homicide by vehicle charges, which are considered vehicular manslaughter, a Class B felony in Iowa punishable by a mandatory prison sentence up to 25 years per count. Boyd was facing two counts.
Auge never signed the plea agreement Dial submitted, but he included her email as part of the filing and wrote “see attached email” in the line where her signature was required.
The next day, Jan. 26, at 10:31 a.m. Auge emailed Dial after becoming aware of the guilty plea to OWI and tried to clarify the state’s position – that she was willing to accept a plea to Counts 1 or 2 which were the vehicular homicide charges, apologized for the confusion, and said the state fully intends to pursue the other charges.
An hour later, District Judge John Wright entered an order accepting the plea and setting a sentencing hearing.
Lee County Attorney Ross Braden, on Jan. 27, after learning of the plea down to OWI from Auge, filed an amended motion regarding the plea arrangement, calling Auge’s communication, “a poorly drafted email in this matter to Defense Counsel”.
Braden described in his argument how Dial hastily printed off the email and got a signature from his client, attached the email and filed the guilty plea in an attempt to avoid prosecution for manslaughter, knowing that the state was intent on pursuing charges relating to the fatalities.
Braden, who placed Auge on administrative leave last week, said Judge Wright had no choice but to accept the plea agreement.
“Those agreements are basically contracts between the state and the defendant and the Supreme Court has essentially ruled that way,” Braden said.
He declined to comment further on Auge’s position citing personnel issues.
In his argument to the court on Jan. 27, Braden asked the court to keep the trial date set and allow the state to prosecute Boyd under the first two counts.
On Feb. 19, Wright overruled Braden’s request and sentenced Boyd to the maximum allowable jail term for OWI-1st offense, a serious misdemeanor. Wright sentenced Boyd to one year in the Lee County Jail with credit for time served. One year is the maximum allowed under Iowa law for a serious misdemeanor.
Boyd was taken into custody on Feb. 22 and is being housed in the Lee County Jail with work release privileges. He was also fined $1,250, a 15% crime services surcharge and court costs.
Boyd’s driver’s license was also revoked for six years and he was ordered to complete a substance abuse evaluation, a course for drinking drivers and a substance abuse prevention program.
The Faulkner family declined to comment for this article.